Myth Of The French Bourgeoisie / Edition 1

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Who, exactly, were the French bourgeoisie? Unlike the Anglo-Americans, who widely embraced middle-class ideals and values, the French--even the most affluent and conservative--have always rejected and maligned bourgeois values and identity.

In this new approach to the old question of the bourgeoisie, Sarah Maza focuses on the crucial period before, during, and after the French Revolution, and offers a provocative answer: the French bourgeoisie has never existed. Despite the large numbers of respectable middling town-dwellers, no group identified themselves as bourgeois. Drawing on political and economic theory and history, personal and polemical writings, and works of fiction, Maza argues that the bourgeoisie was never the social norm. In fact, it functioned as a critical counter-norm, an imagined and threatening embodiment of materialism, self-interest, commercialism, and mass culture, which defined all that the French rejected.

A challenge to conventional wisdom about modern French history, this book poses broader questions about the role of anti-bourgeois sentiment in French culture, by suggesting parallels between the figures of the bourgeois, the Jew, and the American in the French social imaginary. It is a brilliant and timely foray into our beliefs and fantasies about the social world and our definition of a social class.

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Editorial Reviews

France Today

Maza presents an insightful essay dissecting the concept of the French bourgeoisie.
— Alicia Austin

William H. Sewell
This is a bold work on a big topic, based on wide erudition and deep reflection. Maza's consistent focus on what she calls "the social imaginary" enables her to stride with admirable briskness through the tangled landscape of this much studied and highly controversial era of French history. While not everyone will be convinced by Maza's claim that the French bourgeoisie did not exist, this book will transform the way we think about the problem.
France Today - Alicia Austin
Maza presents an insightful essay dissecting the concept of the French bourgeoisie.
Library Journal
As a historian, Maza (Northwestern Univ.) delves into the nebulous realm of perception (see, for instance, her Private Lives and Public Affairs). Here she explores French perceptions of the middling classes from pre-revolutionary times until the rise of Louis-Philippe. Through the analysis of literature, memoirs, and scholarly works, she concludes that the French middle classes never congealed into a cohesive class-conscious force that obtained real political power. In fact, it was the demonization of bourgeois values (self-interest, private wealth, etc.) that sustained political forces on both the Right and the Left. Perhaps this dominant strain of anti-bourgeoisie sentiment goes a long way toward explaining the often bloody struggles for governing power in France. The French bourgeoisie is a well-plowed field of study (see, e.g., Elinor Barber's The Bourgeoisie in 18th Century France), but Maza's work offers a fresh perspective and should serve as grist for further debate. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Jim Doyle, Sara Hightower Regional Lib., Rome, GA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674017696
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 268
  • Product dimensions: 0.61 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Maza is Jane Long Professor of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Is There a Class in This Text?

1. The Social Imaginary in Prerevolutionary France

2. Commerce, Luxury, and Family Love

3. Revolutionary Brotherhood and the War against Aristocracy

4. The Social World after Thermidor

5. The Political Birth of the Bourgeoisie, 1815-1830

6. The Failure of "Bourgeoisie Monarchy"

Conclusion: The Bourgeois, the Jew, and the American



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